The Golden Bear and His Cubs

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TRAVELERS REST, S.C. -- Steve Nicklaus remembers his father flying home in the middle of a PGA Tour event in Ohio to watch his sons play for a high school football title in Florida.

'That was a big game,' Jack Nicklaus said Wednesday.

Steve guessed his dad probably got back to Firestone Country Club about 2 the next morning. 'You won that week, didn't you?' Steve asked his father.

'You guys won,' Jack said. 'I don't care about what I did.'

Family, and then golf, has always been Nicklaus' routine. And the Golden Bear gets to combine them this week as he tees off with his four sons -- Jack II, Steve, Gary and Michael -- in the Nationwide Tour's BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs.

'I'm always looking for a place to play with the boys, and to have a tournament be nice enough to ask, I can't turn that down,' the elder Nicklaus said.

The 63-year-old Nicklaus won 18 major titles and remains the game's gold standard. But he's rarely put golf ahead of his wife and children. He vowed to wife Barbara that he wouldn't spend more than two weeks on tour away from his family and has largely kept that promise for more than four decades.

'If I actually had to pick my best friend, I'd pick my father,' said Jack II.

Nicklaus looks at it as doing what he had to do. If he needed to work on drawing a 3-iron while Jackie and Steve were throwing golf balls at each other on the range, so be it. Chasing daughter Nan, or Gary through sandtraps, no problem. The experiences taught Nicklaus the sharp focus and concentration that's rarely been
equalled.

Jack and his son Gary, both playing as pros, will join amateur son Steve for the first two rounds of the Nationwide's only celebrity event that includes actor Kevin Costner. Professionals Jack II and Michael will tee off in groups soon after.

'I guess when you have more than one Nicklaus in a tournament you have Nick-o-lai,' said John O'Hurley, the former J. Peterman of 'Seinfield' fame who's playing here. 'I think it's created such a buzz in this tournament to watch them play.'

It's not all a fun-filled family reunion. Jack Nicklaus says he's feeling better than he has in a while and hopes to scare some of the Nationwide's younger up-and-comers with his old school game.

After finishing a practice round at The Cliffs' Keowee Vineyards course, Nicklaus and three sons -- Michael was driving at BMW's testing center -- played the five holes they did not complete because of rain Tuesday. As his sons headed off to the 17th tee, Nicklaus was alone on the 16th green practicing chips from the sidehill rough.

One hole earlier when Steve went sideways with an approach, Nicklaus counseled him to keep his 'left shoulder back and move your weight forward.' Steve followed through with a nicer shot.
 
'That was better,' dad called over.

During walks, Nicklaus cooed at his 15th and latest grandchild, 7-month-old Gary Thomas Jr. When the boy's father, Gary, stepped to the 18th tee, grandpa yelled to spectators, 'Better watch yourself right there. Gary hasn't been playing a lot lately.'

The only one missing from the family reunion is 37-year-old Nan, a non-golfer like her mother.

Jack Nicklaus expected stiff competition among the family this week. But when the round's over, he's happy to have his family share in the game he's loved.

'This is just a fun thing for us to do,' Nicklaus said.
 
Related Links
  • Full-field scores from the BMW Charity Pro-Am
  • Full coverage of the BMW Charity Pro-Am